Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crispy Pork Belly with Couscous and Plum Sauce

     The warm, sun-filled weather of summer has gone.  Cooler nights accompany daily rain-clouds that march through the Rogue Valley like a military invasion.  Most of our summer vegetables have been harvested, despite a few lingering tomatoes, peppers and stone fruit aching to be released from their stemmed bondage.  October in Southern Oregon makes the sleepy pear orchards come alive with the bustle of box-crates, ladders and trucks.  The harvest is a time-sensitive affair; almost overnight, the orchards are picked and the fruit is packed, resulting in the distribution of fine fruit to most of the country.
     The fruit trees on our property have received a different kind of attention.  Unfortunately, we did not enjoy very much of the fruit from our trees due to pest thievery. Birds, rats, squirrels, raccoons and deer have all eaten well this year!  However, our flowering plum tree produced a hefty yield which seemed relatively untouched.  This is a type of purple-leaf plum (or cherry plum.)  As the fruit is not wonderful raw, I decided to use it for a sauce.  I harvested approximately 2 pounds just as the fruit began to fall from the branches on its own accord.  It doesn't get any riper than that!

Ripe cherry plums.

     Crispy, braised pork belly was the first thing that came to mind after tasting the tart sweetness of the plum sauce.  Soft, fatty, savory pork belly is undoubtedly one of the finest foods, ever.  Although it is the same cut as bacon, uncured pork belly braised in fruit juice and booze will create a fork-tender feast worthy of applause.  Despite being a guilty pleasure, moderate amounts of braised pork belly can undoubtedly increase the quality of one's life.  Layers of muscle and fat give the braise a fluffy, fork tender appeal.  My sweetheart affectionately refers to it as "bacon cake," for obvious reasons.
     The belly is served on a bed of toasted pearl (Israeli) couscous tossed with fresh mint and cilantro.  The refreshing, herbal notes from the couscous form a flavor platform for the pork and plum sauce to dance upon.  The blend of equal parts mint and cilantro brings a bright Thai profile to the tiny pasta beads.  The glaze has a sour plum flavor that cuts through the fatty belly at the same time the sweetness highlights the savory meatiness.  Japanese plum wine, made from Ume plums, sweetens the sauce with a floral essence and slight vanilla taste.  Large couscous lends a bubbly, pearlescent texture to contrast the crackle of crisped skin.  Because the braise can take several hours, I cook the belly the day before serving, so it has a chance to cool for portioning (cutting warm, braised meat can result in frustrating destruction.)  Additionally, keep in mind that the belly is very rich; a smaller portion may be sufficient.
     I prefer to braise this cut with the skin attached, covering the meat below.  As the belly cooks, it begins to float in the braising liquid surfacing parts of the meat which could dry slightly.  Naturally, the skin insulates the muscle in a moisturizing layer of thick fat.  You may find that the rind is just too much fat to consume.  If so, I recommend cooking the belly with the skin still attached, removing it once the meat is cool.  There are claims that pig skin can be unhealthy because the animals secretes toxins through the skin, like humans.  This, however, would only concern customers of producers who raise animals in highly toxic conditions.  If the pork is not organic (or at least naturally raised,) I would probably avoid it altogether, personally.  Also, be sure your butcher removes the mammary glands from the belly; these glands can cause an unpleasantly piggish flavor.

Crispy Pork Belly

3 lbs pork belly (rind on)
3 cups pork stock (or chicken)
3 cups apple cider
2 cups sake
2 cups plum wine (ume)
11/2 cups coconut juice
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1 granny smith apple, seeded and quartered
1 large Spanish onion
1 bulb garlic, peeled
2 Thai chili peppers, seeds removed
1/2 Tbs black peppercorns
kosher salt

  • Place aromatics into deep braising pan, season belly liberally and place on top with the skin side up.  
  • Pour liquids into pan, cover with foil and bake at 400°F for 45 minutes, then drop the temperature to 325°F for 4 hours.
  • Allow to cool in liquid.
  • Remove carefully, wrap and chill the belly.

To serve crispy:

  • Cut 5 ounce portions, score through fat (1/4 inch.)
  • Season with salt, place fat side-down in cold pan and into 450°F oven for approximately 8 minutes (until golden brown and warmed through.)  
  • Remove and slice through scored marks.

Braised belly, scored through the rind and first layer of fat.

Plum Soy Glaze

2 lbs cherry plums (fresh, whole)
1 cup plum wine (ume)
2 tsp tamari soy sauce

  • Gently smash plums in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot, add wine and simmer for 25 minutes (stirring occasionally.)
  • Pass through large strainer.
  • Reduce to a glaze (approximately 1 cup.)
  • Add tamari and pass through fine strainer.

Thai Pearl Couscous

1 cup pearl (Israeli) couscous
1 Tbs sunflower or rice bran oil
1 tsp salt
3 cups water
2 Tbs cilantro, chopped (fresh)
2 Tbs mint, chopped (fresh)

  • Lightly toast couscous in oil, add water and salt.
  • Simmer rapidly, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes.
  • Allow to cool, slightly, then add fresh herbs and serve.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hanger Steak with Fries

     Don't worry, I'm okay...  I think.  Perhaps I should begin with an explanation.  I know that I should apologize for my absence from this blog, but I do not feel sorry.  The fact is, I have had a lot on my plate.  I was recently hired as the chef of a new business and bought a house all in the same week!  'Busy' is an understatement.  The eighty-hour work weeks on top of moving (and then maintaining a little over an acre during growing season) has consumed my every waking moment.  I am so grateful for the good fortune this year has provided but it truly has not been easy.
     Since my last post, I continued to work at the Ashland Food Co-Operative (in what is the nation's "most productive" food co-op deli.)  We produced large volumes of deli food including ethnic, vegan, organic, wheat-free and even totally raw dietary options.  Amazingly, our weekly sales reached into the seventy-thousand dollar range during the slow months of March and April.  Things were good, but I was dissatisfied with this type of heavy production.  So I searched for, and found, a head-chef position at a small bar in the historic town of Jacksonville, Oregon.  The position was unique, (in many ways) primarily because I was the only kitchen staff.  Oh, and we didn't have a kitchen either; a convection oven, panini press and rice cooker were my appliances.  I will spare you the details, but essentially, I made delicious happen with very little, every day.  I have since moved on to bigger and better things but needed to, at least, explain the cause for such a lapse.
Bud loves our new home, especially the field.

     Summer has arrived and it is hot!  Daily readings of 100°F in the shade make for perfect barbeque weather.  Conveniently, the house we purchased came with a Weber gas grill in good, working condition.  Even more convenient was the hanger steak in my freezer, patiently waiting to be thawed.  (This was not part of the home sale, of course.)  Hanger steak (hanging tender, or onglet in France) is also known as the 'Butcher's Steak' because it often goes home with them at the end of the day.  You see, hanger steak is the best steak of all.  Ha! I can't believe I said it... but it's true.
     Don't get me wrong; I love ribeye and greatly admire filet mignon, but they do not compare to the perfection that is hanger steak.  This cut is highly desired because there is only one hanging tender on a cow.  The nomenclature is derived from its position on the animal "hanging" below the diaphragm.  This location  is dually benevolent because the surrounding organs impart great flavor, and because the muscle is very tender as it is not used for locomotion or steering.  The steaks are small (1 1/2 to 2 pounds, typically) with one steak slightly larger than another, more slender steak.  A large band of ligament and silver-skin runs through the two portions and should be removed creating two uneven steaks or approximately 4, 7-ounce steaks.  The steaks, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil, are best cooked to medium-rare (at most.)  After grilling, allow the steaks to rest before slicing across the grain.
     These steaks were served with a quick, marinated tomato salad and fresh baby arugula dressed lightly in lemon juice and olive oil.  Hand-cut french fries complete the meal with classic virtue.  Albeit unhealthy, there is no substitute for a perfectly fried potato.  Stacked alongside a juicy steak seems to be a common aspiration for the modest yet elegant fry (other than riding in a basket of beer-battered fish, of course.)  They say that if a potato is good and healthy, then it's "fit to be fried."
     For great fries, use russet potatoes (these are more starchy) and rice bran, peanut, sunflower or coconut oil.  First, blanche the potatoes in oil at 275°-250°F for about 10 minutes (or until slightly softened.)  Then, cool on a drained rack in the refrigerator before frying again in the oil heated to 360°-375°F for about 7 minutes (or until golden brown.)  As soon as the fries come out of the oil, season with salt so that it sticks.

Marinated Tomatoes

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half
1/4 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and minced
2 shallots, peeled and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, shaved thin
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbs sherry vinegar
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and marinate for 15 minutes.

Grilled hanger steak with marinated tomatoes, baby arugula, and hand-cut fries.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black Cod with Chorizo

The Siskiyou Mountains, with Mt. Shasta in the distance, border Northern California and Southern Oregon.

     A dormant Southern Oregon landscape currently sleeps through winter's drawn out procession.  Constant, cold fog teased by mid-day sun keeps the ground damp, and the trees barren.  Green grass is the only sign of spring, even though it has been a very mild winter.  Most of the snow has melted from the Siskiyou Mountains, frustrating skiers and scaring farmers.  Hopefully, more will fall to replenish the watershed and thrill adrenaline junkies.  The weather is dreary enough to spice things up a bit.  Comfort food with a Spanish flare is what I fancy.  Black cod with homemade chorizo and pinquito beans served with a big hunk of crusty bread and garlic aioli will, undoubtedly, warm up the soul.

      I am presently educating myself in all things local, within the realm of sustainability.  There is much to learn in a new region with varying seasonal patterns, farming practices, standards of expectation, and limited availability.  The biggest challenge, however, is the lack of USDA certification inspection facilities nearby.  Many local ranchers cannot feasibly ship their product almost 200 miles for inspection, then back down to the Rogue Valley and market it as a 'local' product.  The benefit of local food, environmentally speaking, hinges on the pin of carbon emission reduction.  In order to buy truly local meat and seafood one must use a non-USDA approved distributor.  However, without overcrowding feed lots while administering hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified feed, there is little worry for disease and bacteria, which would otherwise need to be tested for.
     I am reminded of my experience raising my own pig for slaughter in Southern California.  I had no idea what I was getting into, and although it may seem pretty straight-forward, raising a pig is like raising a little rhinoceros, or better yet, a giant gopher.  Sure, they are cute and funny, but also very strong, iron-willed, and always hungry.  It was not easy keeping the pig in the pen.  Pigs are professional diggers.  Although my pig, appropriately named Carnitas, was not sustainably nor organically raised, she was happy, healthy and received plenty of attention.  Vegetable scraps and leftover starches (to supplement the barley-corn feed) were commonly given to the pig instead of the local landfill.  Furthermore, when it was approximately 45 days to slaughter, I changed her diet to wild acorns and figs (which are easily foraged in Santa Barbara.)  Acorns are high in fat, and figs have plenty of sugar which also helps to increase the animal's weight and improve the flavor of the meat.  Raising one's own pig is not easy; I do not recommend it to anyone.  But, if you decide to do so, be sure to give the animal plenty of rummaging space, bury 12 inch boards into the ground below the fencing (or use electric fence,)  and consult your local city hall for zoning restrictions on livestock.  Oh, and be sure to dispose of the manure appropriately.

Mt. Shasta, beyond the Klamath River entering Yreka.

     It seems that hog farming can go one of two ways; it can be environmentally conscientious or  devastating.  The usefulness of omnivore ranching provides a dietary ease for the farmer, but it can destroy waterways from waste runoff.  Pasturing the animals enriches the soil, by turning up nutrients and quickly composting organic matter.  Also, the natural landscape absorbs animal waste instead of sheeting it into culverts and gutters down toward rivers and streams.  The varying diet of pasture foraging gives the pork a fatty meatiness far from any sort of 'other white meat' associations.  Willow-Witt Ranch, near Ashland, Oregon produces organic, sustainably-raised, pastured pork.  (A wonderful USDA approved product.)  Additionally, the ranch raises pack-trained goats for adventurers, milking goats, young chevon, eggs, meat chickens, and seasonal vegetables.  They even sell their own goat dairy, homemade sausages, and ready-to-use compost by the cubic yard.  Nestled high in the Southern Cascade Mountains, this 440 acre ranch has implemented many benevolent practices to appreciate.  Energy independence, sustainable agriculture, wetland restoration and holistic forest management are the greatest achievements a farm can produce in addition to their bounty.  Willow-Witt Ranch believes that "like pure mountain water, good stewardship here at the headwaters cascades through the entire watershed."

     My training as a professional cook in Santa Barbara, California taught me many things.  I cherished the amazing abundance of year-round produce and locally raised food.  Santa Maria style barbeque is a traditional meal, utilizing pinquito beans (a cross between white and pink beans) served with oak-grilled, top-block sirloin or tri-tip steak, fresh salsa, and tortillas.  The simplicity of such cultural food is what, I think, makes it so appealing.  These tiny little beans have found a special place in my heart (they don't take up much room in there.)  Even though we are far from the Central Coast of California, dried beans travel well and these seem to frequently find their way into my homemade chili and bean stews.

Cook pinquito beans the same way you would cook pinto beans:  

  • Pick through the dried beans to prevent any unwanted pebbles ending up in your food.  
  • Soak them in plenty of water overnight, and simmer in a large pot with a quartered onion, garlic cloves, salt and a dried chili pepper (I prefer chili de arbol.)  
  • There should be a small amount of excess water leftover from the cooking process.  (This helps keep the beans moist and enriches the broth of the finished product.)

     Chorizo is a pork sausage found in most Latin countries, in a number of regional varieties.  It takes on a different form and flavor in each of its beloved faces.  In Portugal the sausage is usually dried in shorter casings.  In Mexico, it is often sold fresh and made with native chili peppers and salivation glands (which melts into crumbly bits when cooked.)  Spanish chorizo is usually made with paprika and comes short, long, dried, or fresh.  To serve with the flaky, white, slightly firm flesh of black cod I prepare a fresh, Spanish-style chorizo with Mexican flavors.  Pork shoulder provides ideal taste and a perfect balance of marbled meat and fat for grinding into this light-cured, caseless sausage.  It 'ages' with the strong flavors of Mexican chili peppers, fresh oregano and garlic, smoked paprika, and tequila.  I would also serve this fresh sausage with clams, calamari, sea bass or along with kale and potatoes (if cod is unavailable.)
     Black cod, also known as sablefish, or 'butterfish' is abundant in the wild.  Commercial fisheries have not over-fished black cod, and mindful fisheries use hook and line instead of trawling gear (which destroys marine habitat on the ocean floor.)  Line catching also allows the fishermen to safely minimize endangered discards and by-catch.  These large round-fish are found below 656 feet, and as deep as 9,800 feet, in the North Pacific waters from California to Alaska and over to Japan.  Locally harvested off the coast of Oregon by Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, this very rich, sweet flavored fish has high omega-3 fatty acids making this a heart-healthy choice, as well.  For information regarding sustainable fishing practices the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a fish watch website for habitat and harvesting information regarding most species found throughout the country.  Here is a link.
     Both the fish and pork, among other goods, are available to purchase through Rogue Valley Local Foods, a local cooperative that drops off orders at various locations within the valley.

Rogue Valley from Mt. Ashland

     Keep in mind, this recipe calls for the sausage to marinate for 24 hours, before grinding.  Also, this is a large recipe, but the chorizo freezes well, pre-portioned.  Using freshly ground spices dramatically increases the boldness of the flavor due to a timely release of essential oils.  Warming the peppers, cumin and black pepper at 250° - 300° F for a few minutes before grinding creates a deeper, more palatable tone to the spice mixture.  This sausage is moderately spicy, in my opinion, with a delayed heat revealed after a few seconds.  If freshly ground spices are unavailable, you may wish to increase the cumin and peppers.  Prepare the measured spices and chopped aromatics ahead of meat cutting to keep the pork cold.  Also, remove any glands from the pork shoulder as these will tarnish the sausage's flavor.  This dish requires two saute pans, a preheated oven, a small amount of dry sherry and room temperature butter.


2 egg yolks
10 cups light flavored oil (grapeseed, olive)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 lemon juiced
salt and pepper to taste

  • Using a food processor (or mortar and pestle,) crush the garlic with a tiny amount of salt.
  • Add yolks, blend till smooth.
  • Slowly add oil (while mixing,) incorporating as you drizzle.  (Mixture should thicken as it emulsifies.)
  • Add juice to loosen.
  • Add remaining oil (slowly,) then season with salt and pepper.
  • Aioli should have consistency of mayo, but with strong garlic and fresh lemon flavor.


5 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1" cubes (max. size)
1 1/2 oz kosher salt
2 Tbs ancho pepper, dried and ground
1 Tbs smoked paprika
1 Tbs cayenne pepper, ground
1 Tbs fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped

3 Tbs tequila, chilled
3 Tbs red wine vinegar

Fresh chorizo

Mix seasonings (except tequila and vinegar) with pork, thoroughly.

Pack tightly and marinate for 24 hours.

Grind through medium die on meat grinder.

Mix meat and tequila / vinegar.

Cook a small piece and adjust seasonings to taste, if necessary.

    Pan-Seared Black Cod

    8 oz. boneless fillet of black cod
    salt and pepper to taste
    cooking oil

    • Preheat oven to 500° F.
    • Heat large cast iron or steel pan with oil (canola, grapeseed, rice bran, or safflower) until barely smoking.
    • Season fillet with salt and pepper.
    • Sear on one side till golden, then quickly flip fillet and finish in the oven for approximately 4 minutes.

    Black Cod

    Plate Assembly

    • Heat a large saute pan with some oil until barely smoking, add 4 oz of fresh chorizo slightly broken-up.  
    • Cook through, breaking-up the sausage and stirring to brown the outer bits. 
    •  Add 1 oz dry sherry to pan (away from flame) and reduce briefly.  
    • Add 6 oz of cooked pinquito beans to the pan with about 1-2 oz water, or stock.  
    • Reduce a bit more and remove from heat, fold 1 tablespoon of butter into beans and chorizo, 'till melted, and serve immediately with finished cod on top.  Garnish with fresh scallions, chives (or fine herbs mix of chopped chive, chervil, parsley, tarragon, and thyme.)  

    Black cod with pastured-pork chorizo and pinquito beans.

         Deglazing the chorizo with dry sherry lends a velvety sweetness to compliment all the components of this dish.  The tiny pinquito beans are a fun and flavorful addition, while ciabatta bread has all the nooks and crannies needed to appropriately enjoy this meal.  Under the beautifully opalescent fish, this is a bean and chorizo stew, really.  The broth soaking bread and fillet of 'butterfish' make this an interactive meal of memorable proportions.  I would recommend serving a nice light salad on the side of this belly-stretching behemoth.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Beet Salad

         I must apologize, as it has been over a month since my last post.  Things have been, well, preoccupying.  We left our homestead in northeast Wyoming for better work, or as I should say, better food.  Our move west to the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon went well, despite the challenges associated with packing our belongings across a frozen footbridge and into a 6' X 12' trailer in the dead of winter, then driving it halfway across the country over icy passes and through frequent snowstorms whipping the over-sized load in tow.  Might I add, this is the second time we have done this sort of "I'll never do that again," kind of towing in inclement weather.  We were fortunate to approach the Denio Pass (with it's white knuckle, sweaty brow, cliff hanging, sans guard-rail, gravel strewn, boulder dropping, 8 percent grade) during a lull in the late November storms prevalent throughout the northern Nevada ranges.

    Fog sets on snow-speckled mountains surrounding pear orchards in the Rogue Valley.

          Southern Oregon is beautiful and rich.  Beautiful for the magnificently mystical mountains covered in various types of trees, which create a stage for the daily displays of fog dancing on the peaks and valleys.    It is rich, for the abundance of locally grown, sustainable products found at the markets.  Sustainable farming is the future of food.  Roughly speaking, it is a practice that takes no more from the earth than it gives back 'sustaining' a healthy ecosystem within the agricultural environment.  Most organic farming operations are well aware of such practical methods.
         Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms in Virginia, is a shining example of sustainable farming.  He has shown that sustainable farming does not require reinventing the wheel.  Instead, following older techniques and understanding biodynamic relationships between animals and plants allows a farm to produce high quality foods without chemical dependencies.  Encouraging chickens to scratch through pastures just after cattle have grazed, prevents the need to use anti-worm medication in the cows, but also provides manure disbursement (which would otherwise burn the grass where the dung was left intact.)  Also, allowing many different crops to grow in the same plot of land eliminates the exploitative deterioration of soil quality found in all monoculture systems after only a few years.  Further examples of sustainable farming include: rain-water gathering for irrigation, biological filtering of waste-waters, recycling of manure for all-natural fertilizer or methane gas, and even bio-diesel production from poor quality or surplus crops to run agricultural machinery.  Small steps like these add up to a better future for everyone, but primarily for the farmer who is unable to make ends meet in a world overrun with a consumer-based appetite for fast and cheap.
         The food industry has, at long last, slowly turned a marketable corner down the road of limitless opportunity, cobbled with free resources, and gas lit by no-impact righteousness (at least within most of Europe, coastal United States, Asia and Australia; basically anywhere with a conscientious population.)  Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland, Oregon has made extensive efforts to run a restaurant and brewery as environmentally pro-active as possible.  They even provide beneficial incentives encouraging employees to bicycle to work.  This trend will hopefully overpower the corporate domination of food production systems, currently growing throughout the world, within our lifetimes.  'Hopefully,' is a moderate word to use.
         In my opinion, incredibly wealthy companies like Monsanto repeatedly destroy efforts made to better the future of food by lobbying and passing bills favorable to their biotechnological reign.  Vote against the eternal ownership of all seed genetics and against the production of genetically modified foods, in order to save our agricultural system from total obliteration by not buying ANY of their products.  Europe has already kicked this 'Franken-food' out of the continent as we should have, long ago.  For more detailed information, watch: Food Inc.,  The Beautiful Truth,  Food Matters,  King Corn,  Dirt! The Movie or read any of Michael Pollan's books.  Next step, VOTE with your purchases; it's the only way.

    Okay, enough ranting, no more digressions . . .

         Much of our new life here in Oregon will revolve around the world of frugality.  Spending little is crucial to making it through hard transitions.  Our new home has no garden, no chicken coop, nor does it have a fish-filled creek running through it.  There is no fireplace to fuel and no tools to build with (in this last year alone, I have built 3 bridges, 1 trolley, and 1 gondola just to cross the creek for road access.)  It is a different lifestyle here, one which we have lived before.  Still, I must admit how strange it is to venture into town daily, for errands, job hunting, and even to shop for delicious, organic food.  Living at the cabin, we needed little from the city proper itself, other than milk and proteins.  Things must change though, in order to progress but, also, in order to share a knowledge worth it's weight in beans, so to speak.
         Alas, I must share my favorite utilization of the humble beet.  Beets have been essential to commercial sugar production for many years.  Sweet, simple to cook, vibrantly colored, and healthy to boot; the beet is a universal food for the creative cook (who must also be tolerant of stained hands.)  Simply roasted with some sherry, butter and water, then peeled, cooled and cut is my favorite way to enjoy beets.  The greens are incredible as well, providing many essential vitamin and mineral contributions to a delicious braised side dish.  However, the usually ruby-colored gem hidden beneath the soil is certainly the prize.

         Thanks to Ruby's mother, we have several jars of canned beets (schlepped from our garden in Wyoming, miraculously preserved with all their deliciousness) for our enjoyment through such fiscally harrowing times.  Canning increases the shelf-life of foods to their ultimate limits (other than drying, of course.)  Much like most processed foods, sanitation and sterilization are key to canning well.  Properly canned beets can taste as good as the day they were picked.
         I have decided to share a recipe from the early days of my career.  This dish sold like hotcakes in a now closed restaurant, primarily because beets were making a come-back on menus everywhere, but also because the dish itself was brilliantly coordinated.  There are many things that just taste great, and that is all that need be explained.  This is one of those things.  I wish I could describe the flavor of this dish better than I know how.  It tastes like what the beet wanted to do, what it wanted to become.  I know, it sounds incredibly cheesy, but I am not making this up.  If the beet could speak, it would say: "Serve me with blue cheese in a lemon-parsley vinaigrette, please and thank you."  (Because beets are so very polite.)

    Vibrant vinaigrette pictured with Oregon Blue Cheese.

         This dish is pictured with a balsamic reduction for visual contrast and depth of flavor.  Additionally, I used Rogue Creamery's Oregon Blue Cheese made (from raw milk) in Central Point, just a few miles from our home.  Their artisan cheeses are crafted with a commitment to sustainability.  In California, we would use Point Reyes Blue Cheese (my personal favorite) instead, because it was closer to home (another sustainable product as well).
         Watercress is a suitable medium for this salad, but mâche (lamb's lettuce or corn salad) would be optimal.  The texture of crisp greens is more important than the peppery flavor.  Italian flat-leaf parsley has a much more palatable flavor than its curly cousin, therefore, securing its preferential use in the vinaigrette.  Also, canned beets were utilized instead of, ideally, fresh roasted beets.  If pickled beets are all that is available, omit the vinegar in the dressing and deconstruct its essential components: lemon zest, parsley, shallot, and olive oil.  Combined, the separate ingredients marry into their own dressed completeness.

    Lemon Parsley Vinaigrette

    1 large bunch picked Italian flat parsley (3 cups packed)
    3 lemons zested
    1 lemon juiced
    1 shallot
    1 clove garlic
    1 Tbs sugar
    1 Tbs whole grain mustard
    1/4 cup sherry vinegar
    1 1/2 cup olive oil
    salt and pepper to taste

    Blend all ingredients until smooth.
    *Makes just over 1 quart.

    Beet Salad

    3 ounces roasted beets (peeled, cooled, and cut into 1/8ths)
    1 ounce mâche, watercress, or micro-greens
    2 ounces blue cheese
    1 ounce lemon parsley vinaigrette
    pinch salt and freshly cracked black pepper

    Toss lightly and serve.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Roasted Chicken, Biscuits and Gravy

    Four small cottonwood trees, cut and stacked, seasoning for future use.

    The log cabin is a bastion of warmth along 
    the cold waters of Clear Creek.

         It is cold.  It was 2°F outside this morning when I awoke.  Ruby and I are impatiently awaiting an upcoming move to southern Oregon for a wider range of employment opportunities and higher quality, local foods.  Also, I must admit there is reason enough to migrate from this cold weather.  An inch or two of very fine powder fell in overnight but the magnificent crystalline formations found along the creek made an early rise worth the effort.  Minus 30°F is the lowest I have seen the thermometer read here, although it is said to have gotten even colder than that.  It hurts to breathe when it's that cold.  Winter has arrived and I am thankful for the abundance of firewood that I cut, split, and stacked on this side of the creek.  The new temporary bridge I built in October has been helpful as well, especially for transporting the wood via wheelbarrow.  
          A hydrologist and equipment operators have been working tirelessly on the new, permanent bridge's abutments and on stabilizing the banks of the creek by redirecting the inertia created during the high-water runoff, which could erode the foundation of the house.  (The footbridge we use to access the house was washed away in June.)  Four small cottonwoods were, unfortunately, rooted where the new bridge is to be placed.  That meant that I needed to fell, buck, and stack the rounds to season the wood for next year.  Cottonwoods burn well but are very fibrous and, therefore, difficult to split unless thoroughly dried.  The log cabin, which we have called home for the last year, is heated primarily by a large Rumford fireplace (which Ruby helped build) and a Glenwood cookstove.  The crackling fire centered in the home satisfies the soul throughout the bitter, lonely winters.  It's a good thing we have so much wood too, did I mention it's cold?

         Family has begun to arrive for the holiday and a surprise visit from a friend has also helped to warm the house.  Michelle Jorgensen went to high school with me in Martinez, California.  We did not know each other well back then, but worthy relationships certainly don't always develop in such a simple manner.  When Ruby and I lived here a few years ago (before moving back to California, only to return last fall) we left a few pictures of my family and us on the refrigerator.  A family friend whom was staying at the house for a few nights had invited some co-workers over to hang out.  At the time he was working at a local dude ranch with many other young adults from around the country.  Michelle was also, at the time, working at the ranch after spontaneously deciding to relocate to the rural wilds of Wyoming.  When she recognized me in the photos and, then later my father (who was her P.E. teacher in elementary school), she must have felt some sense of cosmic warmth in knowing just how small this world can be.
         Since then, Ruby and I moved back to Buffalo last fall to work at that same ranch. Michelle and I have gotten to know each other a little and mutually appreciate each others' blogs.  She writes a travel blog showcasing her adventures here and around the country with her stunning photography and intriguing stories of a life seldom experienced.  The blog is called travel 'til my home is found.  She sent me a message the other day, which informed me that she would be in the area with her friend Andrea, and asked if I would be interested in getting together for a Blog Party, of sorts.  Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation, making friendships hard to come by.  I was thrilled, not only to have a friend visit, but also to have an excuse to make delicious happen, yet again.
         I decided, considering the weather, that we deserved some good ol' fashioned comfort food.  Ruby and I have, over the years, developed a self-induced infatuation for oven-roasted chicken with biscuits and gravy.  I am comfortable stating that I don't think there is any room for improvements on this recipe; I'm pretty sure it's perfect.  Rendering the fat from the skin in a hot oven first, then slow roasting the chicken (while basting it in its own fat every 12 minutes) produces a moist, golden bird.  Saturating the bird in its own flavorful juices produces a tender meat, eager to fall off the bone.  Gravy that is chunky with gizzards, heart, liver, and neck meat provides an appropriate vehicle to truly enjoy the simplicity of a perfect biscuit.  A healthy melange of fresh vegetables to accompany everything makes this simple meal an elegantly heart-warming reach into American memory.  The meal evokes a certain magical nourishment, the value of which is often over-looked in today's fast-paced hustle and bustle.  I love gravy, so much.

         Good chicken stock is crucial in making any sauce or gravy.  It should only be made from  vegetarian, all-natural, organic (if possible) chickens free from antibiotics.  A roux, which is equal parts (by weight) of fat and flour stirred over low heat until light blonde colored, and slightly nutty to the smell, thickens the stock to a saucy consistency while the offal contributes to the gravy's savory richness.   Pan drippings from the roasting pan are a welcome addition to this wholesome sauce which is brightened by subtle flavors of thyme and garlic.  Ideally, the gravy can be made while the chicken is roasting and finished with the pan drippings.  Use this recipe interchangeably with turkey, duck or even breakfast sausage by simply replacing the meats and, if possible, the stock.
         The chicken is seasoned with salt, black pepper and a blend of ground spices including cumin, paprika, coriander, red chili pepper, onion, garlic, and dried cilantro.  The Spice Hunter makes a wonderful salt-free spice blend called Mexican Seasoningthat works perfectly in a pinch.  If utilizing the convenience of this pre-made blend I will still add some paprika for coloring and flavoring.  High quality spanish paprika lends warmth to the overall profile of this hearty dinner with a mild, spicy heat.  The biscuit recipe that I use can be found in The New Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.  Unfortunately, I am not permitted to post the recipe without their permission, but if you email me, I can share our adapted version.  We have found that replacing the dairy with rice milk and all-natural butter substitute can create a wonderful vegan product.  (Soy-Free Earth Balance is probably the healthiest spread on the market.)  This book can answer many technical questions as their wealth of knowledge, obtained within a test-kitchen, comes from multiple variations of the same recipe (something far out of reach for most cooks.)

    Seasoned, oiled, ready to roast.

    Roasted Chicken

    4-5 lb fryer chicken, rinsed and dried
    Spice rub with paprika, garlic, onion, cumin, coriander, red chili pepper, and dried cilantro
    Salt and black pepper
    olive oil

    • Preheat oven to 425°F
    • Roast chicken on top rack for 25 minutes.
    • Drop temperature to 325°F and baste exterior of bird with fat from the pan.
    • Baste every 12-14 minutes, roast for 1 1/2 - 2 hours basting one final time 15 minutes before pulling from the oven to maintain crispy skin.
    • Rest on cutting board for at least 20 minutes before carving.

    Finished chicken, ready to carve.

    Country-Style Chicken Gravy

    2 Tbs vegetable oil
    1 quart chicken stock
    2 cups water
    1 Tbs dried thyme
    2 cloves garlic (minced or grated)
    1 Tbs paprika
    114 g AP flour
    114 g butter
    1 chicken neck, gizzard, liver and heart
    1/2 cup roasted chicken drippings
    salt and black pepper

    • Braise seasoned gizzard, heart and neck in oil and 2 cups water.
    • Combine flour and melted butter in sauce pan.  Stir constantly over low heat until blonde in color and slightly nutty smelling.  Let 'roux' cool to room temp.
    • Saute seasoned liver in oil. 
    • Remove neck meat from the bones and chop with gizzards, heart, and liver.
    • Bring stock to a boil, whisk in cooled roux and simmer an additional few minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally.
    • Add meat, thyme, paprika, and garlic.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
    • Add chicken drippings, once finished basting, stir to blend.
    • Season to taste.

    I apologize for the blurry photos.  'Delicious' was more important.


    Braised Kale with Bacon

    1/4 lb bacon cut into small 1/2 inch pieces
    1/2 lb kale (tuscan black kale, cavolo nero, lacinato kale) washed and rib removed
    1 clove garlic minced
    2 Tbs Cholula hot sauce, or medium-high mexican chili hot sauce
    1/4 cup water
    Pinch salt

    • Render the bacon by first placing it in a cold pan, then slowly cooking the fat away from the bacon, 'till crispy.  Then blast the heat.
    • Add garlic and kale.
    • Toss a few times until the kale is wilted. 
    • Then add water and hot sauce.  
    • Toss again, then cut the heat.  Toss again.

    Sometimes dinner needs to be convenient for a group, so I utilize residual heat by stacking precariously.
    Sometimes I spill delicious food everywhere, beware.

         Silence, broken only by scratching fork and knife, satisfactory grins after a swirled sip, clean plates and a request for more: success.  Thanks Michelle, Andrea, Renee, Jimmy, Carmen, Joe, and Ruby for such a wonderful excuse to have some fun and eat well.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Venison Pastrami Reuben

    Large group of grazing mule deer in the distance.

         Venison is readily available in Wyoming this time of the year.  There are so many deer that the cops are allowed to kill more than 75 deer within residential city limits.  "Put an orange collar on Fido, the 'Good Ol' Boys' are hunting with handguns!"  Unfortunately, the deer are more comfortable in town than they are in the wilderness because of the pressure the annual hordes of hunters place upon the animals.  Also, they have more food later in the year which can be found in residential gardens and manicured lawns.  
         A friend provided a nice-sized hind leg of local whitetail deer for our enjoyment and I have decided to produce some pastrami with a portion of it.  The rest of the leg was cut into steaks and ground into a HUGE meatloaf with bison and pork for Ruby, Renee, Jimmy and me to enjoy.  They are currently working relentlessly on their mobile trailer, which endured some nasty road damage during their last leg from the east coast.  Holiday season brings distant family together and soon we will have 11-12 guests for Thanksgiving this year; a real treat for Ruby and I who rarely enjoy a holiday with family due to the demands of professional cooking schedules.

    Front yard feeding is a safe choice for this whitetail fawn.

    Stay alert little one.


         I have recently made a bunch of corned venison with cabbage, carrots and potatoes from the doe that was donated to us last year.  However, I have not made pastrami before, and I have yet to 'go for the gusto' and make a venison reuben sandwich from scratch (except for the swiss cheese).  Rye bread, saurkraut, pastrami, swiss cheese and Russian (thousand island) dressing are the traditional components of a reuben, which is warmed on a griddle and served hot.  The reuben sandwich is a quintessential 'melt' of heaping flavor that tastes, in my opinion, like deli.  The pickled cabbage, peppery, smoked meat and sour rye combine to create a ubiquitous flavor one can only associate with American delicatessens.
         Pastrami is corned beef brisket which is coated in cracked black pepper and coriander, smoked to an internal temp of 150°F, then steamed for 2-3 hours.  However, I will be using the eye of round cut from the hind leg of the deer.  Brisket is from the chest of the animal, which is not very large on deer.  The pastrami is brined for 7 days in sodium nitrite, kosher salt, spices and water.  Sodium nitrite tenderizes and maintains a red-colored flesh while preventing the possibility of lethal botulism bacterial growth.  Increase the value, depth, and reach of the pepper and coriander by lightly toasting the spices before grinding to release the essential oils.  I decided, for this pastrami, to add some minced garlic to the exterior rub for a little extra zip.  Since oak trees don't grow out here in the northern midwest I used applewood with some alderwood mixed in to create a gracefully sweet smokiness.  I baked a rye bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D..  This is one of those few, revolutionary books you must have if you like to eat fresh bread but don't have a lot of extra time to make it.
         A few weeks ago I made a fresh batch of saurkraut which has fermented for both one and two weeks (for those who like it more strongly flavored).  Saurkraut is cabbage that has been pickled in its own juices with some salt to control the bacteria at a safe level.  This method, which uses minimal salt, relies on crushing the trapped water from the cellular structure of the leaves, which then creates a high-salinity juice for everything to pickle within.  It is important to weigh down the saurkraut with a water-filled plastic bag or ceramic dish during the fermenting to prevent spoilage.  Three tablespoons of sea salt is all that is needed for five pounds of chopped cabbage.  Sea salt is optimal for pickling vegetables because of its mineral content which keeps the product crisp and brightly colored.  The process of bashing the cabbage to obliteration is time consuming but produces an authentic, high-quality condiment.  We used to make giant batches of this stuff at work for a menu item, which I must say, is both fun and painstakingly arduous.  
         I made a stop-motion film with photographs to document the process.  This short film depicts an hour-long process of cabbage bashing followed by weights, filled with water, placed on top to keep the product submerged.  It just so happened that a dear old friend, and fermented cabbage aficionado, Mortimer Bickle stopped by during a business trip while I was putting together the video and offered to provide a voice-over for informational enrichment.   

                                             Soundtrack by Garage a Trois


    And now I feel the need to apologize for that.  I know, It was pretty bad . . . Sorry.

    Finished saurkraut (weighted down and covered loosely with plastic wrap) ready to ferment.

    Deli Style Rye
    from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D.*

    3 cups lukewarm water
    1 1/2 Tbs granulated [active-dry] yeast (2 packets)
    1 1/2 Tbs kosher salt
    1 1/2 Tbs caraway seeds, plus more for sprinkling on top
    1 cup rye flour
    5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    Cornmeal for pizza peel [or thin board]
    Cornstarch wash [1/2 tsp cornstarch mixed with small amount of water added to 1/2 cup water.  Bring to boil or microwave for 30-60 seconds on high until mixture appears glassy.]

    • Mix the yeast, salt and caraway seed with the water in a 5 qt bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
    • Mix in remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon ... or heavy duty stand mixer (with dough hook)...
    • Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
    • Refrigerate ... for two more hours and use for up to 14 days.
    • Preheat oven to 450°F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack.  Place an empty broiler tray on any other [rack] that won't interfere with the rising bread.
    • Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit sized) piece.  Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.  Elongate the ball into an oval-shaped loaf.  Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-crusted pizza peel [thin board] for 40 minutes.
    • Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with cornstarch wash and then sprinkle with additional caraway seeds.  Slash with deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife.
    • Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone.  Pour one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm.
    • Allow to cool before slicing...

    Venison Pastrami

    Corning Brine
         *This brine recipe is the same I use to make corned venison, just simmer it in a covered pot with water and aromatics for 5 hours.

    3-4 lb venison round or loin (with excess fat and silver-skin removed)
    1/2 cup kosher salt
    1 oz sodium nitrite (Instacure #1)
    5 dried bay leaves
    4 Tbs black pepper
    3 Tbs coriander seed
    1 tsp whole mustard seed
    1/2 gallon water

    Smoking Rub

    2 Tbs coriander seed, freshly ground
    5 Tbs black pepper, freshly ground
    2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

    • Combine all brine ingredients and bring up to simmer, stir to disolve salts.
    • Cool to room temperature in plastic food-safe container large enough to accommodate the roast and brine.
    • Place meat in brine so that it is completely submerged, use a stone or weight to hold it down if necessary.
    • Brine for 7 days in refrigerator.
    • Remove from brine, rinse and dry.
    • Coat in mixture of garlic and lightly toasted, ground black pepper and coriander. 
    • Smoke at 225-255°F over oak, apple, plum, cherry, alder or hickory wood until an internal temperature of 150°F is reached.  
    • Remove from smoke and place on rack above steam tray and cover. Place in 275°F oven or on low heat on the stovetop .
    • Lightly steam for 2-3 hours.
    • Slice very thin, serve warm or cold.

    Russian Dressing (Thousand Island)

    1/2 cup mayonnaise
    1/4 cup tomato ketchup
    1/4 cup sweet relish


    3 Tbs sea salt
    5 lbs thinly chopped cabbage
    1 tsp caraway seed

    Deer Reuben Sandwich,

         You taste good.  
    Well, actually you taste great!  Thanks for being delicious.  

    Your friend,  



    *Francois, Zoe , and Jeff Hertzberg. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.